Big Win to Start Road Trip and Year
This is going to be a brief recap, and then I'll let you weigh in. Arriving in Toronto isn't like arriving in other NBA cities, for obvious reasons, and I can tell you no one in our traveling party got to bed before 3 a.m. And, with a game tonight, I'm not the only one behind schedule. So, quick blog now, and then back tonight to recap the game against the Raptors.
First of all, huge win in New York last night. There were a lot of impressive things about the evening, but what stood out to me was how prepared the Trail Blazers were to play. That sounds like something that should go without saying, but it's not. They had an excellent game plan, didn't get caught star watching at Madison Square Garden, and weren't bothered at all by the hoopla that surrounded the return of Amare Stoudemire.
JJ Hickson was the power forward who should have been given the standing ovation, as he continued what has been an amazing run. He wasn't on the court to finish the game, but he sure got it started for the Blazers. Hickson helped the Blazers build a 19-point first-half lead, and ended with 18 points and 9 rebounds in just 24 minutes. That's amazing productivity in his time on the court.
Even with Portland dominating the game early, New York fans didn't really seem that concerned in the first half, and Carmelo Anthony gave them plenty of reason to believe a big comeback was coming, when he hit a desperation three pointer right before the end of the first half that cut the Portland lead to 11, and sent the Knicks to the locker room with a ton of momentum.
To their credit, the Blazers answered early in the second half. And, they continued to answer every New York run in the second half. This is not an easy place to play. Add to that, the buzz surrounding Stoudemire, the energy in the jam-packed building on New Year's Day, and Carmelo making heroic play after heroic play.
The Knicks did continue to chip away at Portland's lead, and had it down to three in the final minute, on a couple of occasions. Then, Damian Lillard, who has never been bothered by big moments, hit the shot of the night for Portland. With 35 seconds left, and he hit a cold-blooded three (like we've seen before), and that turned out to be the difference, even though the Knicks still had a chance to tie moments later.
Lillard ended with 21 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. We were going to grab him for our post-game interview, but MSG's Mike Breen and Walt Frazier wanted to talk to him, and we figured the extra exposure for Lillard was the better move. We let them have him, and all they talked about afterward was how impressed they were by his humble nature- something we've become used to.
Lillard wasn't the only hero for Portland, even though his shot was the loudest. Nic Batum continued this streak of consistent play, and finished with 26 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds. He was the big reason the Blazers were able to withstand a big Knicks run in the third quarter. Batum had 13 points in that third, and continued to deliver clutch shots.
LaMarcus Aldridge was a beast on the boards, when Portland needed him the most. Aldridge had 19 points and 14 rebounds, including a huge tip-in basket in the final minute.
The Trail Blazers got Wesley Matthews back for this game, and even though he wasn't a huge factor scoring the ball, he provided great defense, hustle, and leadership, as always.
Portland's bench didn't end with sterling numbers, but Ronnie Price and Jered Jefferies turned in very solid performances. Luke Babbitt grabbed some clutch rebounds, and hit two big three pointers. And, Victor Claver's line on the stat page doesn't jump out at you, but he was once again effective, and provided his usual energy.
Two huge numbers on the stat page do jump out at you. The Trail Blazers out rebounded the Knicks 47-37, and outshot them 51 percent to 43 percent. Portland is now 12-1 on the season when they shoot just 45 percent or better. The Blazers are also now 12-1 when they hold a lead after three quarters.
The loss dropped the Knicks to 12-3 at Madison Square Garden.
Now, it's the second of a back to back. The Blazers have to find a way to emotionally get up again, this time in a setting that won't compare to MSG. But, they'll battle one of the hotter teams in the Eastern Conference in the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors have been on a run since they lost by 18 in Portland in December. The Blazers didn't even play well in that game, yet recorded an easy win. They went 0-20 from behind the three-point line in that game, and it didn't even matter. They won't be able to get away with that tonight.
The Blazers are now 1-0 in 2013, and 10-4 since the start of December.
Talk to you later tonight.